"The Tapestries"--Chapter Eight
There's not much left to post of this story. Thanks to all who are reading and especially to those of you who have left me such kind and helpful comments! I'm still catching up on replies, but I haven't forgotten you. :)
In the height of rebellion, it is easy to forget the little details that will later form the bulk of one’s concerns. The night that I’d stood on the steps of the palace in Tirion—or had it been day? all hours were the same without the Trees and equally forbidding—I’d wooed almost the whole of my recalcitrant people with my words, like ravens flocking to silver. Or—in my more melodramatic moments—like sharks to blood. The words seemed to come from beyond me; there was a pressure in my chest and then in my throat and then words coming forth from my mouth that amazed even my ears. I was an eloquent speaker, yes, but these words? These words would make a cataract run backward, from lake to stream. In my more daring moments in the days that followed, I would question whether perhaps Eru Ilúvatar himself had spoken through me, if my quest—my very existence—was indeed ordained by something beyond even the Valar.
Those honeyed words spun a spell that spoke of lands free with the music of running rivers, starlight winking bright upon dark waters, trees dripping with flowers and carpets of grass as cool as silk. I spoke of the realms we would build beyond even the imaginings of the Valar, building these paradises in the minds of my listeners with the same ease as a child clever with blocks. But most of all, I spoke of purpose, for we were not a purposeless people yet had been made so by the cozy lifestyle afforded us by the Valar, where our purpose concerned trinkets made for their amusement. Where we were even procured for their amusement in the same way that we brought home caged canaries or hound pups for the delight of our children.
But, I said, we were purposeful people, and with the murder of our King, our purpose had been revealed to us. The Valar would do nothing to stop the stain of evil of Moringotto from spreading to the farthest green corners of Arda. We would. We would seek vengeance and prove ourselves more than the buffoons of the Powers.
My words moved more than just my people: They moved me, stirred the licking fires in my heart to burn even hotter. Steadfast and determined, we marched from the city with little upon our backs: neither food nor water nor provisions for comfort. In a quest ordained by the Maker himself, stopping to discuss proper footwear and the rationing of foods that would no longer be abundant in the darkness seemed a bit anticlimactic. Along the way, some turned away, but I lamented them in the same way that a beast mourns the dropping of a tick that had been feeding upon its flesh: a lessening of a burden, the loss of only parasites who did not understand our purpose. To Alqualondë, we walked. Up the coast, we walked and rowed. Over the sea, past the maelstrom that Ossë inflicted upon us. Across the Outer Lands with their soup-thick shadows and constant scrim of clouds across the sky, we marched until the bottoms wore out of our boots.
Eventually, we had to stop.
The lake was like a smear of oil in the darkness. I halted our people upon a hill and held forth my lantern as though that would be enough to illuminate the land spread beneath us, but the lake would not even catch a spark of light. Clouds cloaked the stars, made the land shadowy and forbidding, the lake even more so.
“This,” I said, “is where we shall stop. I feel that it is right.”
But I felt no such thing. I felt the same hunger and weariness as everyone else, the same growing doubt churning in my stomach, burning like bile at the back of my throat. We didn’t stop because it was ordained that we should reside by Lake Mithrim, as it would come to be called. Indeed, in short time, my people would move on to more suitable lands, though I would not live to see it. We stopped because we had to stop, because even our hardy people were wearied and hungry, and we had not brought enough food.
When I’d spun my vision of the Outer Lands to my people—words as deft as fingers putting in place a stitch, a glimmer into a tapestry—I did not mention the endless darkness. I did not mention the beasts that howled in the hills at night and kept awake our children—and ourselves, if we were being honest. I did not mention that we would leave behind most of our tools and so would root in the dirt like animals, with hands and sticks, and fight over the few hammers and spades that had been brought along. I did not mention the blisters and splinters and sprains—or the unfamiliar herbs that all smelled strange to our healers, that made each in turn shake her head. I know not what to do with this, my lord. I did not mention that we were creatures of light trying to hunt in the darkness, nor did I tell of what it felt like to be hungry: not the sort of hunger that draws one, sniffing, to the kitchen at suppertime but the sort of hunger that made us taste even bitter bark and leaves in hope of sustenance, that made our bowels run with burning pain.
For caged beasts are oppressed and coddled in equal measure, and we’d no sooner encountered a problem in Valinor and been given or taught a solution. Here, we fought over the answers. Curufinwë would have taken his fists to Nelyo’s face if Macalaurë and Tyelkormo had not caught both their arms in time. They’d fought over the building of a bridge: so simple an implement to eliminate such a silly obstacle as a deep creekbed that was posing a risk to scrabble on a daily basis. Yet we needed water and the herbs that lay in the forest beyond; we needed a bridge. In Valinor, there were books and treatises and long councils devoted to such debates. Here, we became as desperate and ruthless as beasts.
We raised tiny houses and slept inside them in great numbers. They were drafty and the roofs leaked. There was no sand to make glass and so we had no windows.
All the while, treachery slithered among us in the darkness.
I watched Nelyo one day, whittling a doorknob from a block of wood. Nelyo had taken a fall in the darkness the other day and turned his ankle; he’d been ordered by the healer to take two full days off of it. Of course, Nelyo would never be content in idleness. “If I cannot use my leg, then I shall use my hands,” he’d said and set immediately to work whittling tools and fixtures from scraps of wood left from building the houses. I watched him that day, leaning his back against the tree, a fire-lantern hissing by his side. His hair was a tangled mess down his back; only Tyelkormo had thought to bring a comb, and my sons fought over it every night. Nelyo, naturally, let his brothers use it first and usually fell asleep before his turn came. Naturally. It had been years since he’d last worked with his hands, and the knife slipped on occasion and nicked his skin. His hands were red with tiny cuts.
I watched him working—making nothing for himself but another comb for his brothers, a doorknob for one of the women forsaken by her husband, a wooden trowel for one of the healers—and doubted him. Mistrusted him, if I am being completely honest.
In the Halls of Mandos, I would face a tapestry of that moment: Nelyo in the delicate orange lamplight, smoothing with his knife a wooden ball for Tyelperinquar. Me: in the shadows. Watching. Mistrusting.
I remembered his outburst on the day we’d burned the ships. Better that we had risked all of our lives to return for those who had never had a kind word or helpful deed for any of us? His face twisting, his voice ragged with rage and frustration; Nelyo, who had never been less than collected, whose poise was unshakeable, screaming at me with the same senselessness as a child in the midst of a tantrum. Though even as a child, he’d never succumbed to the temptation of such behavior. I believed that I had seen a secret part of him that would one day betray me.
Then, watching him whittle—as I wasted hours of productive day while my sons toiled, excavating stones from the riverbed behind me—I couldn’t not see it. “Perhaps you should have been a son of Nolofinwë,” I’d whispered, but Nelyo was humming by then—a tune brought from Valinor—under his breath, and did not hear me.
That night, he had gifts for each of us. For me, he’d made a wooden mallet. “I know that you want your good steel hammer,” he’d said, “but until we can find an iron deposit, I figured that it is good, strong wood and will serve you well.”
It was good strong wood. I tested it in the palm of my hand and made my sons laugh nervously. They were softened towards Nelyo again, forming a little half-circle around me, huddled close to him. His arm was draped over Macalaurë’s shoulder, who was reverently fingering the wooden flute that Nelyo had carved him—it was slightly out of tune, but it was better than nothing and would give us music at night. I tested the mallet again. For a moment, I imagined the long, beautiful fingers of my eldest son’s right hand beneath it as it smote my palm. The thought made me sick and something else: something I will not admit even as I stare into the tapestry of that moment and feel it anew, tangible as a pinch delivered deep inside my thoughts.
It was a good mallet, made from a single piece of sturdy wood so that the handle would not break free of the head. It would serve me well. But I fed it into the fire that night, when my sons were asleep on the floor behind me, watching until the hot center of the flame had reduced it to unrecognizable ash.
“Why did you do that?” The question teased me out of my memories, out from between the shadowy strands of the tapestry that sketched a close-walled room, a whipping fire, and me: a shadow crouched and dropping a perfectly constructed mallet into the grate.
Because as surely as I was thinking harm against him—my own child, my heir, once my favorite son, the light of whose eyes I believed more precious than that of the Two Trees—surely he was thinking harm against me. Autumn was coming. The trees were losing their leaves in whispering droves—all the better to conceal the whispers that he shared with his brothers, that spoke of leaving our doomed little village by the lake and returning to the shore to sail back for the people of Nolofinwë. I imagined the sound that mallet would make, cracking against my skull. I imagined awaking with a headache and an empty village, for if my words could lead my people forth from paradise to live in fear and darkness, then what could Nelyo’s do? Surely convince them to risk death—such a mild penalty—to rescue their friends of old from the cages of the Valar.
I mistrusted my own children. When I heard them laugh and did not know the reason, my neck prickled as it had done before under the gaze of Moringotto. I barely slept for listening for whispers or concealed footfalls.
“You have always constructed a world around yourself that is different from what is, that is what you make of it,” Námo said. I whirled around with defenses seething in my thoughts, but he was not there. There was a tapestry of my sons, clustered around me to hear their instructions in the morning, their eyes sleepy but keen upon me, almost reverent. No breeze stirred it. I was alone, and the more I thought on it, the more the voice I’d heard sounded like my own.